BOROUGHWIDE — The drive toward congestion pricing should get out of the fast lane, according to Assemblymember Nicole Malliotakis, who has reached out to the Trump administration to try and apply the brakes to the controversial plan.
Malliotakis, a Republican representing parts of Bay Ridge and Staten Island, wrote a letter to the Federal Highway Administration on Feb. 20, urging the agency to reject congestion pricing in New York City.
The Federal Highway Administration must sign off on congestion pricing before the plan can be implemented.
Congestion pricing, the plan to charge motorists a fee to drive into Manhattan south of 60th Street, was approved by the state legislature in April. The idea behind congestion pricing is to have the Metropolitan Transportation Authority use the funds generated by the Manhattan entry fee to repair and upgrade the city’s buses and subways.
Under the legislation passed in Albany, the MTA will be tasked with developing a plan on the implementation of congestion pricing, as well as forming a commission to oversee the plan.
In her letter to Federal Highway Administrator Nicole Nason, Malliotakis, who voted against congestion pricing when it came before the legislature, urged the agency to reject congestion pricing until the MTA comes up with a concrete plan on exactly how congestion pricing would work.
The MTA has yet to release a plan, according to Malliotakis.
“As your agency moves closer to a decision, I ask that you hold the MTA to the highest standard possible and reject this plan until they are able to provide concrete and satisfactory details as to how they intend to proceed,” Malliotakis wrote to Nason.
Malliotakis said she is not opposed to congestion pricing per se, but voted against the bill because it was too vague in her view. “I don’t believe in voting for a bill that was basically a blank check. There was no information on exactly how congestion pricing would work and exactly where the money would go. I would like to see some of the money go to fix switches on the R train, express bus service and other things that would benefit my constituents,” she said.
Malliotakis also pushed for the Verrazzano-Narrows Bridge to be included in any congestion pricing plan. Specifically, she is seeking a toll credit for Staten Island residents, who, she said, would be unfairly forced to pay two tolls — one to drive on the Verrazzano-Narrows Bridge and a second toll to drive into Manhattan.
“I also urge you to reject this proposal unless the Verrazzano Bridge is given the same toll credit status that many other crossings across the city are expected to receive. The people of Staten Island and New York City are counting on you to make sense of this puzzling plan, which is missing many pieces,” she wrote.
A motorist from Bay Ridge who frequently crosses the Verrazzano-Narrows Bridge on business agreed with Malliotakis that a toll credit is in order, but said it should be for anyone using the bridge, not just Staten Islanders.
“If they’re going to do this [congestion pricing] thing, they need to give people some kind of a break,” said the driver, a man named Hal who asked that his last name not be published.
State Sen. Andrew Gounardes, who voted in favor of congestion pricing, said he disagrees with Malliotakis’ attempt to kill it.
“Why would anyone advocate to starve the MTA of funding which will prevent making improvements to the reliability and accessibility of the system?” Gounardes told the Home Reporter in a text message.
Gounardes, a Democrat representing several neighborhoods in Southwest Brooklyn, is continuing to push for toll discount on the Verrazzano-Narrows Bridge to Brooklyn residents who cross the bridge on a frequent basis, according to a spokesperson.
Officials from the Federal Highway Administration had no comment on Malliotakis’ letter to Nason.
But officials said that because the plan would be the first “cordon” congestion pricing tolling program in the U.S., the agency is carefully reviewing the proposal.
Under federal law, roads and highways constructed with federal assistance are required to be toll free. But exceptions can be made, particularly in cases where tolls are being put in to help curb traffic congestion, an official told the Home Reporter.
The administration’s review process is outlined in the National Environmental Policy Act, a federal law enacted in 1970.
As part of the NEPA process, the administration will analyze the impact congestion pricing would have on the environment, including wear and tear of physical infrastructure, the volume of traffic and the impact on the community.
The MTA did not respond to requests for comment.